FAFSA dependency classifications restrict financial aid for students living alone, without parental assistance
As I stood in the hour-and-a-half-long line at the Bursar’s Office on Sept. 8, I looked around and saw many concerned faces that matched my own. Most of the students were there to figure out a payment plan for fall classes that would be dropped the following day if payment wasn’t resolved.
I wondered how many were in a situation similar to mine: unable to receive any federal or state grants or loans, unsure of where the $5,000-plus would come from.
The reason for my lack of financial aid was not because I failed to turn in my required FAFSA documents or because I came from a well-enough-off family (according to the government), but it was my classification as a “dependent” that would render me unable to move forward in the process without my parent’s compliance.
Despite that I make more money than my custodial parent, work two jobs, am a full-time student and have lived on my own since fall 2011, I, like many other students, must inaccurately be described by the government as a dependent. This means that my information alone is not valid, and since my parent would not submit taxes or a W2, I cannot receive any government assistance to attend college.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website states, “… a dependent student is assumed to have the support of parents.” Yet, on the office’s FAFSA site it says, “Students whose parents refuse support are not eligible for a dependency override.”
The only thing Federal Student Aid offers these students is the chance of receiving an unsubsidized Stafford loan after submitting documentation from the parents or an approved third party; the award then is left to the discretion of the financial aid administrator.
Even if parents do not claim the student on tax forms or if the student proves total self-sufficiency, he or she is still required to be a dependent.
Considering my parents have not died, legally abandoned or abused me, I found myself with only a few options to change my status to “independent” as an undergraduate and thus be eligible for aid.
Either I could wait until I’m 24 years old (by Dec. 31 of the award year), or have a kid, get married, join the military or become homeless.
Needless to say these seemed like extreme measures to take out government loans that I would likely be paying back for years to come.
I sadly am not alone in this struggle to get my parent to submit FAFSA information so I may attend college. Whether due to carelessness or ill intent, parental inaction is prevalent enough to be addressed in the common questions section of every informational site on financial aid.
There seems to be no known reason as to why students are not classified as independent until age 24 and certainly no logical one considering the oldest age of majority in any state is 22.
FAFSA.com sums up the unwavering irrationality of the classifications in one note: “IMPORTANT: Many students feel that they should be able to declare INDEPENDENT status because they live on their own, file their own taxes, or receive no support from their parents. Unfortunately, the Department of Education is extremely strict with regard to determining dependency status.”
The federal government’s assumption that parents will support a child in college until he or she is 24 years old is completely unsubstantiated. And its unwillingness to assist students whose parents won’t is counterproductive to the students’ success and the success of the country. If we want to educate our nation, we must give our young adults the power to attend college.
To educate and progress the self is the choice of the individual; no student should suffer because of the irresponsibility of the parent or because of the ignorance of the government.